UCLA men’s basketball switches gears to beat Lafayette in 2nd half comeback
Freshman guard Sebastian Mack dribbles past a Lafayette defender. Mack tallied 18 points on the night, including the go-ahead score on a free throw midway through the second half. (Ella Greenberg Winnick/Daily Bruin staff)
Nov. 10, 2023 11:11 p.m.
This post was updated Nov. 12 at 10:25 a.m.
A nationwide record hung in the balance Friday night.
The Bruins had won their last 26 games at Pauley Pavilion – the country’s best home winning streak.
But for over half of the contest, that mark was in jeopardy.
After trailing for over 25 minutes, UCLA men’s basketball (2-0) defeated Lafayette (0-2) at Pauley Pavilion 68-50 to clinch its 27th consecutive home win. The Bruins didn’t lead until 10:54 remained in the second half but outscored the Leopards 27-5 over the final 12:12 minutes of the game to claw back from a deficit that reached as much as nine.
“We realized we had to adjust second half, and we realized we had to go small with them, because they like to pick and pop,” said sophomore guard Dylan Andrews. “And main thing coming out of the second half, we were just focused on defense and stops and rebounds.”
Riding a three-point advantage at the onset of the second half, the Leopards opened the frame with a 10-4 run that featured a pair of 3-pointers to build a nine-point advantage – their largest of the affair.
From then on, the Bruins controlled the pace.
“Once we started switching everything, it kind of eliminated them,” said coach Mick Cronin.
Five points from junior guard Lazar Stefanovic bookended a pair of made free throws from sophomore forward/center Adem Bona to cut the Leopard lead to two. Lafayette countered with a layup – the team’s final points for the next 11:17 – to push the game back to 45-41.
Back-to-back scores from redshirt fifth-year forward/center Kenneth Nwuba and Stefanovic tied the game at 45 apiece, after which another Lafayette turnover gave UCLA the opportunity to take its first lead of the evening.
Freshman guard Sebastian Mack couldn’t convert a drive inside the paint but drew a foul to send him to the line for the eighth and ninth time. Mack drained both attempts to push the team to a 47-45 lead and went on to finish the evening tied for a team-high 18 points, including nine on 12 attempts from the charity stripe.
“It is a big component of my game, getting to the line, slowing everything down, being patient with it,” Mack said. “But it really just comes from the defensive end, us turning it up on that end. I feel like that’s the reason why we stretched it away so much.”
From there, it was an offensive and defensive shellacking by the Bruins.
The Leopards proceeded with an over-11-minute scoring drought, surrendering 17 points in that span and 27 over the final 12:12 of the game. Mack’s initial go-ahead free throw ignited the duo of himself and Andrews to combine for 19 of the Bruins’ final 23 points. Andrews tied Mack for the game-high scoring figure with 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting, including 3-of-5 from beyond the arc.
Cronin said the performances by Andrews and Mack were a matter of capitalizing on chances to score.
“Well, they had plenty of opportunities where they were going under all their screens and just giving them shots,” Cronin said. “You’ve got to just pack it in and hope for the best. It’s what gave them a chance because we missed a lot of open shots to start the game. So it’s just opportunity.”
To mirror their 18 points each, both Andrews and Mack recorded plus/minuses of 18. While the pair was seemingly leading on both ends of the floor, it was guard Ilane Fibleuil who paced the team with a plus/minus of 27. Fifteen of the freshman’s 24 minutes came in the second half when UCLA transitioned to a four-guard lineup.
“Ilane, who’s a freshman, who can come in and just give us big minutes like that and come in and just, bring like an energy spark, we need that too,” Andrews said. “And he’s not scared. He’s a dog, too.”
But UCLA’s first half was markedly different from its second.
Andrews opened the scoring for the Bruins with a pair of 3-pointers, the first tying the game nearly three minutes into the contest. The second didn’t come until two minutes later, by which point UCLA was trailing 9-6.
The Bruins played catch-up with the Leopards five times throughout the first half but never completed the hunt. In that span, they shot 9-of-26 from the field with just two assists against 11 fouls.
With UCLA’s second-half recovery – driven by 13-of-25 shooting alongside five assists and just five fouls – the balance tipped in favor of the hosts, and the winning streak survived.